Looking up I see some prayer flags along with a sign that announces base camp, elevation 5365m. Lunch was 4 hours ago in Gorak Shep and it feels like a lifetime has passed since then. The headache that I’ve had for the past two days has only intensified. My water bottle is empty, my feet are swollen and aching and I shake my head when I am told that our camp is still 45 minutes away.
I think back to the beginning of this journey, it was 12 days ago when I landed in Kathmandu; the excitement of being back in Nepal, this time to make an attempt on Everest. During our few days in Kathmandu we spent our time taking in the sights and sounds of this city, which are so different than anything in Canada.
I gaze about at the harsh landscape around me. All we have seen for the past several days are snow covered peaks soaring above us; at our feet are rocks and dust. It has been several days since we’ve seen a blade of grass and even longer since we have seen flowers or trees. This more than anything brings down my spirits. The absence of any life other than human, and we are but temporary visitors to this inhospitable land. The final portion of the trek into basecamp has been along a moraine with Pumori towering over us on our left and the Khumbu glacier below us to our right.
At basecamp we continue as we weave our way amongst all the tents and camps already established. Paths go off in all directions and we try to stay on the main path to avoid tromping through other camps. We are now walking on the glacier, and the path is icy at times. We are careful not to fall. Our camp is one of the farthest from the entrance located at the base of the ice fall. This is a much coveted site as we will have a shorter walk whenever we are going up.
Three days ago we passed memorial hill. Located here are monuments erected for those who have perished while on Everest. It is a beautiful resting spot, and as I look around I soon realize how many monuments are here. My team mates look at me quizzically when they notice the tears in my eyes. While removing the back pack from my tiny 4’11” frame, I realize that most if not all the memorials are for men that were much taller, much stronger and many with more mountaineering experience than me. Should I continue on and risk that a memorial would be erected in my honor, or should I turn around now and head back home? This was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and not one to be rushed. Sitting down I pondered this question while taking in the sight. After 30 minutes of quiet contemplation I decided to continue on, so I grabbed by back pack, turned my back to the memorials while saying a little prayer and continued on to base camp.
When I finally arrive to our camp I am exhausted and so glad that I don’t have to walk any farther. Looking around I note the pile of expedition bags. My heart plummets when I notice that mine is on the bottom, under 15 other bags, each weighing 50 lbs or more. How am I going to retrieve it, unpack and set up my tent with this pounding headache and nausea? How can I do this when every step causes me to cough? When I take two breaths for every step that I take?
Determined I reach for the top bag intending to move it off and all the others until I reach my bag when suddenly I am surrounded by the Sherpa team. Pointing to my bag they quickly open it up and retrieve my tent. Once I have chosen from several prepared tent platforms they set to work. Trying to help I quickly realize that I am just in the way, so I sit down and watch them work. Within minutes my tent is up. I crawl in, blow up my mattress and collapse on it, grateful to be lying down and resting. Minutes later Dawa shows up at my tent door with a cup of lemon tea. I gratefully accept his kind gesture and drink it down.
This tent will be my home for the next 7-10 weeks when I am not on the mountain. I am finally here, the beginning of my journey to the summit of Everest. The dream that I have thought about for the past 35 years will finally be realized. Soon I will start my journey to stand on the tallest point on earth. The task seems daunting and I try not to dwell on it. For now I am content with just being in base camp.
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